58 pages 1 hour read

Chester Himes

If He Hollers Let Him Go

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1945

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Symbols & Motifs

Darkness and Lightness

Darkness and lightness function symbolically in the novel. Like in many other literary works, darkness symbolizes evil or corruption in the novel, and lightness symbolizes goodness, purity, or worth. For example, Madge tells Bob: “The preacher said niggers were full of sin. That’s what makes you black” (138). In an earlier passage, Madge’s sister-in-law, Elsie, tells Bob that there are some “mighty good colored boys from the South” (124), as if being good is an anomaly among Southern black people. She goes on to tell him: “The Lord God above made us white and made you folks colored. If He’da wanted to, He coulda made you folks white and us people colored. But he made us white ‘cause he wanted us the same color as Him. ‘I will make thee in My Image,’ He said, and that’s what He done” (124). In the Christian religion, God is perceived as the embodiment of goodness; given that Elsie believes that white people are made in the image of God and black people are not, it seems clear that Elsie believes white people have been endowed with some kind of divine goodness that black people were not given. 

This echoes historical constructs that figure blackness as evil, too—during slavery, being black was often referred to as the “Mark of Cain.

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